13th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 12:49-53 Sermon
August 26, 2007
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
163 “O Worship The King, All Glorious Above”
577 “Nearer My God To Thee”
551 “Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus”
541 “Rise Up, O Men Of God”
THE DIVISION ACCORDING TO JESUS
TEXT (vs. 51-52): [Jesus said] “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three.”
Back in the early ‘70’s (1972-1973 to be exact), there was a television sitcom which was aired by CBS entitled, “Bridget Loves Bernie.” I remember watching it, and I thought it was rather humorous.
The story revolved around this very young couple who had met, fallen in love, and gotten married. The female part of the couple was this beautiful blonde by the name of Bridget Theresa Mary Colleen Fitzgerald, played by Meredith Baxter (who later went on to star as the mother in Family Ties). Bridget came from a very wealthy Irish-Catholic family, and she brought all of that baggage with her into the marriage.
Her husband on the show was Bernard (Bernie) Steinberg played by David Birney. Bernie came from a working class Jewish family. He was a taxi driver and a struggling young writer. His rather unsophisticated parents operated a Jewish delicatessen, at which they worked many long and hard hours. Bernie was raised in the apartment above the delicatessen, where his parents still lived.
If you watched the show, you’d agree that Bridget and Bernie made a very cute couple. It was such a good match, that Meredith Baxter and David Birney actually did get married in real life, in 1973.
The premise of the entire show was the huge difference between the two families, and what the couple did to try to bridge those differences. And they were about as different as two families could be.
For example, one show focused upon the celebration of Christmas versus the celebration of Hanukkah. Of course Bridget wanted a Christmas tree. Bernie had no real objection of his own, but he was afraid that his parents would be offended if they got one. Bridget was afraid that her parents would be offended if they didn’t get one. Bridget’s mother, who was rather clueless, made the remark: “Why should anybody be offended by celebrating the birthday of our Lord and Saviour?”
Another one I remember was where Bernie’s parents won a trip to Rome and would have an audience with the Pope. Of course to a Jewish person, this would have been a meaningless trip. Bridget’s dad was extremely jealous that his Jewish in-laws were going to see the Pope, something he desperately wanted himself. So he goes and purchases a trip for two to the Holy Land to try to make his in-laws jealous. He was hoping that Bernie’s parents would ask to switch holidays with him, since he was too proud to ask himself. The whole show revolved around this pride issue and how the two men were engaging in sort of a mini feud. But in the end, and with Bridget and Bernie’s help, the two came to a mutual agreement to trade holidays, and everybody was happy.
That’s pretty much the way the whole series went. Even though the show was popular, and it had a good time slot between “All In The Family” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” the show ran only one season, 28 episodes in all. CBS cancelled it because of some rather mild objections by several religious groups, even though it was done in such a way that it wasn’t really offensive at all. That’s certainly not the way TV networks conduct their affairs today.
Anyway, the show was primarily about differences in religion, which was intensified by the cultural differences in the two families. And even though the nature of the show was a situation comedy, yet the differences are very real and prevalent in society. It’s as true today as it was in the 1970’s, and as it was in Jesus’ day too.
Verse 52 of our text for today from the 12th chapter of Luke’s Gospel records Jesus speaking what we might think are some out-of-character words for him. He says, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.”
Why do those words seem so unlikely? Isaiah chapter 9 verse 6 records the following prophecy: “And he will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” And then, if we page back about ten chapters from our text in Luke’s Gospel, to Luke chapter 2 verse 14, we read the words of the song of the angels and the heavenly chorus at Christ’s birth: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.”
Here are two direct references to Jesus, one from the pen of the prophet Isaiah, and the other from the heavenly choir, both of which refer to the peace which comes from Christ. And now we have the words of Jesus saying he didn’t come to bring peace?
Let’s add another reference here as well. In Jesus’ high priestly prayer recorded in John 17, where he is talking directly with his heavenly Father, Jesus says in verses 20 and 21: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” This is a prayer for unity, and not division!
So why does the Prince of Peace tell us that he didn’t come to bring peace, and why does he pray for unity when he says he came to bring division? Don’t these seem a little like oxymorons, or blatant contradictions?
Not really, especially when you see that what Jesus desires often sharply differs from the way things are. Jesus came to bring peace to the people on earth; but because of sin, that peace seems so far out of reach. The peace that comes from Jesus is the peace where sinful mankind is reconciled to God.
In reference to the latter days on the earth, Jesus also says in Matthew 24 verses 6 and 7: “You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.”
Certainly Jesus, our Prince of Peace, does not want people at war with each other. But that doesn’t necessarily change what will happen, and he is giving us fair warning about that.
You can be certain of one thing, and that is where Jesus is involved, there will be division. Can you fathom that? There WILL be division! As long as sin exists in this world, there will be a division between those who follow Christ, and those who don’t.
We have that reminder set before us in graphic detail today. Fundamentalist Muslims stand in direct opposition to Christianity and everything it stands for. Even if you take the road of pacifism and peace, the Al Quaeda still wants you dead. The difference between the fundamentalist Muslims and the Christians is a clear example of the division that happens because of Jesus.
This past week, CNN ran a two hour special entitled “God’s Warriors.” In that show, a group called “Battle Cry” was investigated. This group, founded by Pastor Ron Luce, is a non-denominational outreach ministry directed mainly toward the youth and teens of America.
One young girl who was interviewed gave a good summary of what they were all about. She said that they were trying to promote a virtuous lifestyle and a strong moral fibre amongst the youth. With God’s help and guidance, they were tackling the problems of today’s culture and the affect on the young people in our society.
When asked specifically about the nature of the problems, she replied with things like: teenage pregnancy, drug addiction, alcohol, promiscuity, homosexuality, abortion, and so forth.
The rally CNN was covering was in San Francisco, California, one of the most liberal and promiscuous cities in the world. And as you can imagine, there was a large group of people protesting this Battle Cry/Teen Mania organization and what they were promoting.
The event was held, I believe in Candlestick Park, and they filled the place. It was certainly impressive. But out in front, where you had the protesters on one side of the street and the Battle Cry/Teen Mania people on the other side, you could clearly see that division Jesus is talking about.
And for some reason, the protesters felt threatened by the Christians; otherwise they wouldn’t have been there. And for a lot of the adversaries of the faith, freedom of speech applies only to them. For many, they believe that the freedom of speech ends where Christ begins. One good example of this would be the ACLU, and what they try to do in our society.
Today I’ve used several examples of the division brought about by the Christian faith; from the simple family example of Bridget Loves Bernie, to the protesters of Battle Cry in San Francisco, all the way to the fundamentalist Muslims of Al Quaeda. The division Jesus brings can clearly be seen today, and will ultimately be seen on the Last Day, when Jesus as the great judge will judge the living and the dead, and will separate the sheep from the goats.
The division is one caused by sin. Sin is actually the great separator here. When we look at the sin in our own lives and the effects we suffer because of it, we can see how we have been separated from God. The ways of the world have had a great influence on our lives, to the point where it seems like the way of Jesus is foolish.
Sometimes when we feel separation because of Christ, it seems so much easier to us to just go with the flow, and forget about it. We don’t want to fight the battle of sin, so we just give in.
It’s here where we need to look once again at the Gospel, and what that means for us. We look to Jesus in faith, and through faith we accept him as our Saviour. Through our faith in Christ, we are no longer separated from God. The division is gone, and we are a member of his family of faith. Jesus has healed the breach in the relationship with our heavenly Father. We are therefore joined to him through faith; and when we are, then his purpose becomes our cause.
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus uses the example of a family relationship to illustrate the divisions that can happen. And since we all have families of some description, then we can expect a religious division to occur at some level. I don’t think that there’s a family on this earth that is exempt from religious division to some extent.
Maybe that division won’t be to the degree of the Roman Catholic/Jewish division depicted in the Bridget Loves Bernie sitcom of the 70’s, but we can expect divisions to occur. And when they do, then we have to deal with it. Sometimes those divisions can pit even the closest relatives against each other.
So where do we stand? Several weeks ago, I posed the question to you: Do you want a religion or a relationship? Do we see our faith as something rooted in a name or system, or is it rooted in our personal relationship with our Saviour? Do we give lip service to Jesus because it’s the thing to do, or do we profess our relationship with every fibre of our being?
Being a Christian in our society and in our family requires us to live the faith we profess, and to show evidence of our relationship with Jesus. We might not find ourselves in the middle of a protest like what happened in San Francisco, but we still have to stand up for Christ wherever we are.
Even though there will still be divisions because of him, we still strive for a God-pleasing unity of faith. We pray that we will be instruments of the Holy Spirit; so that through us, as many people as possible will come to know the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and will thus be saved and have the knowledge of the truth.